In the spring of 1960, Samuel Fuller was stuck. For a little over a year, he had been working on a screenplay about a middle-aged boxer who agrees to take a dive for a gangster for money, only to double-cross him. Fuller was interested in exploring the world of boxing, but he wasn't satisfied with what he had to that point, and for several months had put the unfinished screenplay on the shelf, returning instead to the script for what would eventually become Underworld USA.
Then Fuller received an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival from his friend, writer Romain Gary. Fuller was reluctant to go at first; he was still bitter about the French reaction to his 1957 war film China Gate. However, Gary, the French Consul-General in Los Angeles at the time, claimed to be able to smooth things out with the right people if need be, and ultimately, Fuller agreed, choosing to keep a low profile while in Cannes.
A meeting was arranged between the two filmmakers. Godard couldn't have been more excited to meet Fuller, one of his idols, and the two talked for hours. Eventually, Fuller mentioned his boxing screenplay and Godard offered a few suggestions, including the addition of a young female lead. Suddenly re-energized, Fuller brought in Gary to help him with the rewrite, spending an extra week in Cannes holed up in their hotel. Fuller returned to America while Gary remained in Europe.
Fuller set up a screen test for Godard's Breathless star Jean Seberg with an eye towards getting her to play Mia, the moll character Fuller added after his initial conversations with the French filmmaker. Fuller had met her briefly at Cannes and was quite taken by her. Seberg was greatly trepidatious about returning to Hollywood, having struck out in her film debut, Otto Preminger's Saint Joan (1957) and not faring much better in her subsequent films, hence the move to France. Fuller informed her, however, that the part of Mia was written with her in mind. With Godard's encouragement, Seberg agreed to fly out to LA.
Gary, back in LA by now, also attended the screen test, which Seberg passed with flying colors. She even offered a couple of suggestions for the character which Fuller and Gary readily took to. Gary and Seberg began spending more time together during the production of Pulp, and a relationship formed between the two of them.
For the part of Wallace, Fuller had in mind someone tall and imposing. Gary happened to remember the Gregory Peck war film Pork Chop Hill (1959) and seeing the 6'4" Woody Strode in a small part. Fuller liked the suggestion and brought the actor into the cast as well.
Post-production took longer than usual for a Fuller film, mostly due to the editing process, and as a result, he was not able to bring it to Cannes like he had hoped. Godard flew in to look at a rough cut and make a few suggestions here and there. Eventually, Pulp was released in the fall of 1961 to middling reviews. As much as Fuller tried to bring the French New Wave sensibility to his film, the American audiences of the day were less than receptive. The French received it more warmly, though, especially Seberg's performance. It would take another six years before that style would be successfully wedded with American cinema, in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde.
Quentin Tarantino's remake in 1994, ironically, did make it to Cannes and won the Palme D'Or as a result. His version is particularly notable, not only for the increased level of violence, but for the addition of the non-linear storytelling format, which has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). Indeed, it is more of a re-imagining than a straight remake (the henchmen Jules and Vincent are expanded upon, for instance), one which Fuller has said is truer to his original vision than his actual product turned out to be, hampered as he was by his attempts to make a French New Wave film.